Amy Andrews is a regular here at CLAficionado, and her latest book explores a steadily growing sub-genre of romance: The Urban Family Romance. She raves about the sub-genre here:
The first time I ever heard the expression urban family was in Bridget Jones’s Diary. I liked it. I thought it was an apt descriptor of Bridget and her band of friends.
The Urban Dictionary (thought that was the most appropriate one to use given the subject matter) defines urban family as –
I explain it to people using Bridget Jones as an example or if they haven’t read/seen it (WTF??) then I use TV’s shows. Friends is a classic urban family situation. So is Cheers. Or if you weren’t born when those shows were King (yes, I’m showing my age) more up-to-date references would be New Girl and The Big Bang Theory.
Fast forward a few years and with two romcoms under my belt, I realise both these stories centre around urban families. A lot of romance novels do. A lot of “chick-lit” especially. In fact, some of my favourite authors write stories where you fall as much in love with the community they create as you do the hero/heroine. Jennifer Crusie comes to mind particularly. (Note from CLAficionado: I love Jennifer Crusie - her pop culture essays are genius!!)
So I think they deserve their own special sub-genre in romance because they have very distinct elements. Sure, because of the community aspect, they’re similar to small town romances but I think it’s the urban landscape and the more city-centric characters/issues that set them apart.
Take Holding Out For A Hero for example (oh, btw, did I mention it’s a finalist in the romantic book of the year award??) The main character, Ella comes from a small outback town but has been living in the big smoke (Brisbane) since she was 17. She lives in a rundown old house with her best friend, Rosie and Rosie’s crazy old retired carnie aunts. Ella’s sullen teenage brother Cam is a more recent addition to the household. Jake, the hero, who’s from the same small town as Ella and Cam but now also lives in the city, is dragged into a plan to help save Ella’s school. Simon, Rosie’s straight-laced, blue-ribbon boyfriend is the architect of the plan. Pete who works at Jake’s pub is pulled into it as is Trish, an old friend of Jake's and her daughter Miranda. There’s also a stray dog, Cerberus, who is rescued by Jake and comes to live at the house too.
So here we have a bunch of people from different walks of life and different places in their lives, some of them related, some of them not, coming together to form a community.
The other factor, the other character if you will, in HOFAH is the house. That rickety old house is the “centre” of the world. It was Ella’s refuge when she ran away from home as it is now Cam’s and even Cerberus’s. It’s the place where Daisy, Iris and Rosie get to be their freaky carnie selves and Simon gets to let his hair down. It’s the home Jake and even Pete never had. It’s the meeting place for everyone as they sit around and hatch their plans. It’s the hub of their community. And when it comes under threat everyone bands together to save it.
I think this is one of the other aspects of urban-family stories – a meeting place. In Friends its Monica’s apartment (occasionally Central Perk the coffee shop). In Cheers it’s the bar. In Big Bang its Sheldon’s apartment.
It’s the same in my new book out in July – Risky Business. Once again set in Brisbane, the hub of the community is a second-hand romance bookshop. An injured Nick has come home to take over the reins of his dead grandmother’s bookshop while he recovers. Yes, big, macho, mountain-climbing-guy running a place that sells those books. I do love a delicious irony! Samantha, his brainy, curvy neighbour and romance novel devotee needs a job so she ends up there too. Then we have the regular’s that come into the shop. Old Dulcie Reardon. Sal the office worker who got dumped by her boyfriend for “getting too fat”. Kelly whose initial crush on Sam morphs into a lovely friendship. Vonnie who likes her books hot and spicy, Dora who likes a spot of romantic suspense and Bernie who pops into buy historicals for his mum and her friends at the nursing home.
Then there’s Sam’s sister, Bec who although isn’t there in person until the end is much a part of the community consciousness as any of them and let’s not forget Godzilla the goldfish.
So here we have another bunch of people from different walks of life coming together to form a community and the shop is their hub. And with Nick adding in coffee and a dark window tint, it’s their own little private bubble. It’s the place where books are read, lamingtons are eaten and a campaign to save their favourite iconic tea shop from the wrecker’s ball is run. It’s the place where Nick and Sam fall in love.
And I hope you fall in love too. With the whole Risky Business community. With the HOFAH community. With this style of romance. Because there are a lot of them out there and I plan to write a lot more and here’s hoping that, one day, everyone will know me as the author who writes really great urban-family romance.
And everyone will know just what the hell that is! :)